The Burden Of Birth Control Still Falls Primarily On Women, But It Shouldn't Have To
A new study in The Journal of Sex Research just confirmed something many cisgender women already sensed: the responsibility to avoid getting pregnant is falling almost exclusively on them. While this may seem logical on the surface because cis women are primarily the ones who can get pregnant, it's actually unfair. It takes two to tango, so to speak, so the responsibility to tango safely should fall on both parties equally. That's already possible now, and it's becoming even more doable with the development of male birth control, so there's really no excuse for the status quo.
Researchers from the University of California — San Francisco's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) analyzed 52 women's visits to reproductive health clinics in which they talked about contraception. Many of the doctors emphasized the time and attention required to stick to a particular method and "constructed this work as reasonably belonging to women." This is consistent with a United Nations report that found 60 percent of women in relationships with men but only 21 percent of men in relationships with women were using birth control.
Lots of women expressed stress about staying on top of their birth control and altering their bodies. And even when a couple decided on preventing pregnancy via vasectomy, it was often the woman who did the research and planned the procedure for her partner. Doctors also dismissed women's desire to not have kids and talked them out of getting their tubes tied.
"The responsibility that women assume for the physical, mental and emotional burdens of contraception is perpetuated and reinforced by how we discuss pregnancy prevention and through our health care system," said study author Katrina Kimport, Ph.D., sociologist at ANSIRH, in a press release emailed to Bustle. "This situation is not inevitable — men could assume much of this responsibility."
Indeed, cis men are already able to take responsibility due to options like condoms and vasectomies. And they may soon have even more birth control options. Vasalgel, an injectable gel that prevents sperm from leaving the body, recently proved successful in rhesus macaque monkeys. None of 16 monkeys subjected to the one-time, reversible procedure impregnated any other monkeys over more than a year.
Yet progress is slow for methods like Vasalgel and the male birth control pill currently in development. Few drug companies are willing to fund the research. Sujoy Guha, the lead scientist behind Vasalgel, tested it on humans with a 99 percent success rate, yet he can't find companies back it.
The task of preventing pregnancy will become even more burdensome — physically, mentally, and financially — if the Affordable Care Act is repealed or its contraceptive mandate is revoked, Kimport pointed out in the press release. An IUD, for example, would cost an average of $1,111 throughout the United States — way more than the price of condoms, needless to say.
"Results are consistent with research identifying the broader feminization of family health work in heterosexual relationships," the paper reads. In other words, preventing unwanted pregnancy is just one more area where women are expected to do most of the work in their relationships, on top of things like childcare and household chores.
So, we won't fully have gender equality until men and women are taking the same amount of responsibility for birth control. And the fact that this isn't happening right now says a lot about the free labor our society expects from women.